Fairmont State Students Create Designs For Calhoun County Starpark
By Rick Steelhammer, Recreation Reporter for the Gazette-Mail

Fairmont State University architecture students are reaching for the stars in producing the conceptual design for a planned addition to Calhoun County Park, a 250-acre expanse of forested hollows and open ridge-top fields nestled beneath some of the darkest night skies in the eastern United States.

The Calhoun County Commission, working in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, West Virginia University Extension Service and the Fairmont State architecture department's Community Design Assistance Center, is in the process of developing a Dark Sky Park to draw stargazing visitors to the site, located off W.Va. 16, about 4 miles south of Grantsville.

The idea began to take shape several years ago, when Calhoun County was targeted for an Appalachian Regional Commission economic development study conducted by UT-Knoxville.

"We started with a focus group, asking a handful of Calhoun County residents gathered in a room what assets they had," said Dr. Tim Ezzell, director of UT-Knoxville's Community Partnership Center.

"There was a lot of silence for a while, and then a guy at the back of the room says, 'We hear it's really dark here at night.' We pulled up some night sky maps and it turned out that Calhoun was a black spot in the eastern U.S., one of only three or four sites where you can still see night skies like that and you can drive right to it."

In 2013, a survey was sent to amateur astronomy clubs in neighboring states in an effort to gauge interest in developing a starpark in Calhoun County. More than 300 people responded to the survey, expressing interest and encouragement in the project, Ezzell said.

"People are getting excited about it," he said. "There's a bit of a buzz about this on the astronomy message boards in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan."

Astronomy groups have been using the park as dark sky observatory since the late 1990s, including clubs from Canton and Columbus, Ohio, and the Pittsburgh area ...

Read more and view photos By Rick Steelhammer, Recreation Reporter for the Gazette-Mail